Your USA-Portugal preview: There's a lot more to hate than just Cristiano Ronaldo

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Your USA-Portugal preview: There's a lot more to hate than just Cristiano Ronaldo

I mean just look at this guy. (AP Photo)

Look at this guy. Seriously, just look at him. It's almost too easy to hate on Cristiano Ronaldo. If you don't hate him, then just read The Evster's guide to hating him. You will. That doesn't make it not-fun, mind you, but Ronaldo-hate is for amateurs. And since you've been staying up to date with The Level's World Cup coverage, you are FAR from an amateur at this point. Everyone watching the now-even-more-important USA-Portugal match (6 p.m. - ESPN) with you tonight* will hate on Ronaldo (or swoon over him, depending on who you're with). (*You are watching with some people, right? You have plenty of options.) Here's a few more reasons to hate* on Portugal, followed by some actual sort-of soccer points. (*I'm using "hate" in the good clean fun sports sense. I'm a nice guy who doesn't hate anyone. Except J.D. Drew. Eff that guy).

Raul Meireles

1. Raul Meireles

Raul Meireles, or Brian Wilson?

Who He Is: A midfielder who plays in the shadow of Ronaldo, as every Portuguese midfielder does. That's the way Cristiano likes it. Why You Should Hate Him: Just look at his stupid face. He looks like the love child of Brian Wilson and Marvin the Martian. Or really, he just looks like Brian Wilson. And who likes that guy? Why You Will Hate Him: He's the guy most likely to injure an American hero. With the king of the dirty tackle, Raul, out from a red card after head-butting a German, Meireles is the guy most likely to slide tackle Michael Bradley from behind and break his leg. He's also pretty damn good. Why He Won't Matter: Because Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman will eat him alive, and Bradley will find a seam behind him to set up an American goal.

Nani

2. Nani Who He Is: A right-side midfielder who doesn't like to pass, and will be the target of multiple Ronaldo "why aren't you as good as me?" head shakes. Why You Should Hate Him: First of all, he plays for Manchester United. Oh, that's not enough for you? He goes by one name like he's freakin' Brazilian. Sure, Portugal and Brazil speak the same language, but you can't just do the single-name thing. Why You Will Hate Him: He'll make one or two solo moves in the first half that make an American player (likely Damarcus Beasley) look really silly. Why He Won't Matter: Because once he makes that fancy move to beat Beasley, he'll be so proud of himself that he'll start hamming for the camera and get dispossessed. Also, in the second half, he'll remember that he doesn't ever put out more than 45 minutes of effort, and become a non-factor.

Joao Moutinho

3. Joao Moutinho Who He Is: Portugal's playmaker and main conduit to Cristiano Ronaldo. He'll have the ball more than any other Portuguese player, and will spend his entire day trying to set up Ronaldo so he doesn't get yelled at after the game. Why You Should Hate Him: He's that guy you hated in your pickup football/basketball/other football/softball game. The little tiny dude (he's listed at 5-foot-7) who you take one look at and think you can "take," and then he embarrasses you in front of the girl you have a crush on... then takes the girl. Why You Will Hate Him: If the Portuguese find a way past the midfield brick wall of Jones and Beckerman (a big "if"), Moutinho is likely going to be the guy who starts the move. Why He Won't Matter: Because Nani will probably steal the ball from him by-accident-on-purpose (this happened against Germany) and then shove him like those two Cameroonian guys did the other night.

* * *

So now you know who to hate, and you already know where to watch, it's time to put the ball down and get moving.

The Americans are clearly hurt without Jozy Altidore (who apparently fell victim to The 700 Level Photoshop jinx). But, defender Matt Besler and forward Clint Dempsey are good to go after injuries against Ghana, and will both likely start.

The only changes you MIGHT see from the opener will be either Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski in place of Altidore, and possibly Graham Zusi starting over Alejandro Bedoya. There is a slight chance Dempsey starts as a lone striker and they clog things up for Ronaldo with another midfielder, but I'm hoping Jurgen Klinsmann is more positive than that.

For much more (MUCH MUCH more) on the tactics for the match (seriously, you can really impress your friends), check out The Shin Guardian's preview.

With the Germany-Ghana draw on Saturday, the United States would secure a spot in the knockout stage with a win over Portugal. They would then need a draw or better against Germany to win the group.

  • A win and a draw in any order, would secure first place in the group.
  • A win and a loss in any order would be enough to advance.
  • Two draws would be enough to advance (likely as second place).

So, a loss against Portugal wouldn't the end, but it's BAD. The Americans would then need a win against a German team that can't rest any starters in the final game. I believe there is also a mathematical way to advance with two losses, but it's not likely. (UPDATE: Commenter Rick (thanks Rick!) checks my math and proves there is no way for the U.S. to advance with two losses.)

Does first place matter? Yes. The group winner will likely face South Korea, Russia or Algeria in the cooler southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. The second-place finisher likely draws a strong Belgium squad in much-warmer Salvador.

My prediction for the first match -- a 3-1 American win -- wasn't too far off, although I predicted two Altidore goals. Close enough.

As for this match? The U.S. takes a surprising 2-0 lead, then holds on at the end as we all age 20 years in the final 10 minutes:

USA 2, Portugal 1.

Nothing to hate about that.

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

The treasure trove that is Joel Embiid's social media presence unearthed another jewel on Saturday evening.

The Sixers' big man took to Instagram to post a picture of himself chatting with local folk legend Sam Hinkie. As if that wasn't enough, check out the captions he wrote at the bottom.

THE GOAT #HeDiedForOurSins #TrustTheProcess

A photo posted by Joel Hans Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Let us break this down.

"THE GOAT" - As in Greatest Of All Time, not an actual goat you would find at your local petting zoo.

"#HeDiedForOurSins" - St. Sam, patron saint of analytical basketball martyrdom.

"#TrustTheProcess" - The rallying cry of the masses.

Sure, they may have taken away Sam, but they'll never take away JoJo's social media platforms. Never!

Yeah, Joel Embiid is healthy

Yeah, Joel Embiid is healthy

Have any doubts about Joel Embiid's health?

Well take a look at this. 

Working on rips into quick spins with the brodie @joelembiid! #100skills100days #unseenhours @adidashoops

A video posted by Drew Hanlen (@drewhanlen) on

How about now?

Of course, this isn't live NBA action, and it is against 5-11 Drew Hanlen, a skills coach and consultant, but it's impressive nonetheless.

 

Eagles Better or Worse 2016: Cornerbacks

Eagles Better or Worse 2016: Cornerbacks

Sad as it is to say of a defense that ranked dead last against the pass, but the Eagles probably fielded their best cornerback tandem in years in 2015. Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll were an upgrade over Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, which is nothing to hang their hats on, although they weren't as bad as the numbers suggest either. Second-round draft pick Eric Rowe showed a lot of promise down the stretch as well.

Still, for the fourth time in six years, the Eagles may once again start the season with a brand new pairing at corner. Maxwell and his absurd contract were shipped out, and while Carroll and Rowe both return, they face stiff competition. The club signed Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks, both of whom played under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz with the Bills and seem to be penciled in at the top of the depth chart. And while Brooks' spot might be up for grabs, McKelvin might have his locked down.

All of which indicates there's at least one new face at corner this year, and that's before we touch on the slot. Change probably isn't a bad thing considering the Eagles' ranking through the air has nowhere to go but up. Competition is certainly welcome as well. That being said, Maxwell may have been an overpriced diva, but did the Eagles effectively replace his talent?

BETTER
Nickel cornerback

This is definitely debatable, as Malcolm Jenkins turned out to be exceptional in the slot for the Eagles last season. The problem is he's actually a safety, and the result of moving him to corner was Chris Maragos or Ed Reynolds entering the game behind him. The trade-off was worth it at the time, but far from ideal.

For 2016, it appears a third cornerback will play on the nickel package instead. As of right now, the smart money is on seventh-round rookie Jalen Mills, who was getting a lot of reps and really impressed during OTAs, although the Eagles have other options. It looks like Leodis McKelvin will earn one of the starting jobs, but could move inside in passing situations. Fellow free-agent addition Ron Brooks knows the system and could get a shot at the role as well. Even Nolan Carroll, while he's not seen much action in the slot, he probably has to play somewhere if he's going to make the team.

Are any of these alternatives to Jenkins going to be an upgrade? That might be going out on a limb. But is slight decline at nickel corner worth the significant drop-off the Eagles suffered at safety as a result? On balance, this looks like a better situation overall.

WORSE
Size

Say what you want about Maxwell, but what the Eagles are getting in scheme fit with McKelvin, they are sacrificing in size. Part of Maxwell's appeal was his 6'3" frame in a league where the wide receivers increasingly resemble NBA basketball players, and while he disappointed with his attitude and lack of physicality, he matched up well when healthy and in the right mind frame.

McKelvin is no slouch. Selected 11th overall in 2008, he's an impressive athlete with a nose for the football. He's also 5'10", will be 31 on opening day and has had trouble keeping a starting job for much of his career. Maxwell didn't live up to the huge contract he signed last offseason, but wasn't as bad as his press either. None of which to say the Eagles won't be better off with McKelvin when everything is said and done, and for a fraction of the cost. When he's giving up five inches to Dez Bryant, on the other hand, we'll find out a lot.

THE SAME
Eric Rowe, Nolan Carroll

Ron Brooks has started all of three games in four NFL seasons, so as much as he may know the scheme, it would still be an upset if he beat out either Carroll or Rowe for a starting job. And while Carroll and Rowe may not be the same as players, they're the closest thing the Eagles have to a known quantity beyond McKelvin.

Carroll is coming off of a devastating ankle injury that might help explain why there weren't many offers in free agency this offseason. Even the Eagles only gave him a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, so the seventh-year veteran must prove he's healthy. To his credit, Carroll was actually having a very solid year in 2015 prior to getting hurt, and you couldn't blame him for feeling as though this is his job to lose.

After a strong finish to last season, the assumption coming into camp was Rowe would be one of the starters. Last year's second-round pick was a bit of an afterthought during OTAs though, so there's some question what his role will be with the Eagles going forward. Then again, the simple fact is Rowe may be the most talented corner on the roster at this point, so you have to assume he has a good shot to not only earn the job in training camp, but improve upon his quality play last year. The name on the back of the jersey may be the same, but the hope remains he's still getting better.

THE UNKNOWN
Pretty much everything

This is the position we know the absolute least about for the Eagles coming into camp. Aside from McKelvin, we don't know who the other starter is, let alone the front-runner. We can't say for sure who will be in the slot, only that he'll probably be a cornerback. We don't know who the primary backups will be. We don't even know if Carroll will be on the roster until everything is said and done. As to how it all goes down, your guess is as good as ours.

BETTER OR WORSE?

With so much uncertainty, typically it might be difficult to declare whether the unit is any better or worse. When it's a last-place secondary you're talking about, that's a little different. Maxwell honestly isn't a bad corner, but McKelvin probably isn't a dramatic downgrade. Beyond that, all the Eagles did was add and retain talent. Mills could contribute immediately, Brooks is an experienced backup, Carroll can play as long as he's healthy and Rowe is another year older. If they can't piece together a dependable duo and trio out of this group, they might never get this thing right. BETTER

Previously: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide ReceiversTight Ends, Offensive LineDefensive Line, LinebackersSafeties, Special Teams